Race SLO Grizzly Run Club takes on San Luis Obispo Half Marathon, find coping and stress reduction skills en route to the finish line
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - The Grizzly Youth Academy cadets were impossible to miss at the San Luis Obispo Half Marathon last weekend. They were wearing bright pink shirts. Even amidst the crowd of several thousand fluorescent-clad runners about to start the full and half marathon events, the cadets were a phalanx of pink.
They emerged in a group from their bus. Their residential high school program for at-risk teens, the Grizzly Youth Academy, was located a few miles away, on the campus of Camp San Luis Obispo. The program is conducted in partnership with the California National Guard and the Grizzly Challenge Charter School, and is known for turning troubled teens’ lives around.
As most runners and veterans are well aware, running and the military have a connection that goes back about as far as the day in 490 BC that Pheidippides ran from the Battle of Marathon to Athens, nearly covering the distance we know as “the marathon” today. This statement is made somewhat in jest, as the first Olympic marathon was not contested until 1896, and mass participation in the sport has only been common for about 125 years.
But in the military, running is and has always been a requirement. And for the cadets at the Grizzly Academy, running in the Grizzly Run Club is a challenge and a privilege - one that imbues them with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Race day: Time to shine
On April 29, I met two of the pink-clad 16-year-old cadets, Mykesha Cardona and Xavier Rice, before they began their first ever half marathons. The farthest each had ever run was a 10-mile training run in the ramp up leading to the event.
Race SLO, the organization that products the San Luis Obispo Marathon and Half, trains and supports the Grizzly Run Club. In 2017, Running USA awarded the Grizzly Run Club a $10,000 grant in support of its efforts to change lives by sharing the sport.
“In all Race SLO’s contributions to our community, I am most proud of our Grizzly Run Club,” said Samantha Pruitt, Founder and CEO of Race SLO. “Teaching these underprivileged teenagers to embrace the athlete’s life of discipline, focused work and rewards changes their lives forever.”
From the start line, she recognized their efforts one final time before the gun. "I am so proud of these kids," Pruitt said.
Change comes one stride at a time
Even before they toed the starting line, Mykesha and Xavier were anxious to share with me how their exposure to the program had been exceptionally positive.
“Before Run Club, I was not the type to go out and run. I was not interested in it,” said Mykesha, who is from Oxnard. She described her live prior to the Academy: “I was really into drugs, partying, popping pills and running away. I was thinking that was a way of coping with things.”
She completed the half in 2 hours, 32 minutes.
"As I finished all I was thinking was i finally accomplished something that i never thought I could do and didn't give up .. I learned through all the training to stay positive and motivated while running and you will fall in love with it," Mykesha said.
Xavier, from Bakersfield, had a similar story about what brought him to the academy.
“It’s been a rough road for me in my life for the last couple of years, with a lot of drugs and stuff. I had been abusing alcohol. I’m trying to change my life now,” he said.
He finished the half marathon in just under 2 hours, though he said before the race that his only goal was to cross the line.
"I won't lie, I wanted to give up at least 100 times, but I didn't. What kept me motivated was my fellow run club members, the thousands of people cheering us on, and myself," Xavier said. "I was so happy that I had finally stuck through something for once. Looking back at all the training and hours of running I put in, it was all very worth it. Now I know I can do anything as long as I always follow this one rule: Never give up, Never give in."
Back to real life, with better coping skills
When Grizzly cadets complete their residential program in San Luis Obispo, they return home with a commitment to finish high school, earn their diplomas, and maintain the disciplinary and behavioral standards they upheld at Camp SLO.
Mykesha said she already knows running will play a role in that process for her.
“When I go home to Oxnard, this has helped me prepared to the future, Run Club especially. When I get back home, I know if I have challenges I can take a run and it will help me think about what to do rather than just going back to my old habits.”
To date, 434 Grizzly Youth Academy cadets have successfully completed their first half-marathon and 537 have also finished a 10K race with Race SLO.
“(The Running USA) grant allows us to further our company mission and legacy by providing running gear for our cadets as well as support our Run Club’s alumni after they graduate,” Pruitt said. That means dozens of cadets will continue to cross the line - and learn to cope - for years to come.
Learn more about the Grizzly Youth Academy: http://www.grizzlyyouthacademy.org/
Learn more about Race SLO: http://www.raceslo.com/